Polarities and choices in early childhood

Posted by / September 23, 2015 / Categories: Blog / -

Polarities and choices in early childhood
Here are few words about the children during this time of the year.

Towards the end of the year, many of our children are well into a different phase of the early childhood journey. At this time, we witness different changes in their behaviour within themselves and with each other. Sometimes, parents are alerted by this change and find themselves wondering what has happened and why their child acts in a way they haven’t experienced before.

To help us understand these childhood phases and find ways to smooth the transition between them we need to understand a few fundamental forces that influence our young children’s growth and behaviours.

Rudolf Steiner has helped us see how it is the will which must develop first and be the anchor. Without the integration of thinking and feeling with action and deed, a truly moral and responsive adult cannot emerge.
The definition of will is: “(n) impulse to act; conscious adoption of a line of action”. It can be both unconscious and conscious. The definition of impulse is a “sudden strong urge to action; tendency to act at once without deliberation”, quite the opposite of a conscious line of action which is defined as ‘knowing and aware’.

Early childhood is a time where fundamental polarity of the will can be strongly evident.
You can understand the concept using the following image. The Little Self is the basic, instinctive pole of self-focus, self- protection and reaction that we all begin with (the ‘Lower Self’, the animal/nature pole) and the Big Self is the evolved, uniquely human, conscious, mindful, higher intelligence (The Higher Self, the spiritual form of will) which has self-control and is able to selflessly act for the good of the whole.

A Little Self is primarily urge and action plus desire.

Let’s look at the urge or drive which is unstoppable from the moment the children wake till the moment they go to sleep. It is unconscious and learns only through experience. The body builds its knowledge through imitation and repetition of the actions and responses of others. Its job is simply to go, either towards something that is attractive (in sympathy) or away from something that is repulsive (in antipathy). It is connected to the primitive reflexes of the hindbrain, the fight-or-flight reactions of the cerebellum. The body does not do complex reasoning. It ‘reads’ the experience perfectly, without words, and adjusts. It learns to recognise what is safe and unsafe. It can act on its own in emergencies to get the child to safety or it can be directed by the feelings or thinking.

The urge to act is a power you can imagine as a horse that needs a rider. In early childhood there is no rider yet. The ‘true child’ is coming slowly and arriving bit by bit. Current brain research shows that the brain is not adult (Big Self) until after the age of 21, as Steiner described.

Desire is unconscious, self-focused and self-serving. Its job is to never be satisfied. It simply wants (out of sympathy) or doesn’t want (out of antipathy) and it cares about nothing but itself. Because its nature is to never be satisfied. The child whose desires are always indulged is often discontented.

With the development of each of the three abilities of action, feeling and thinking there is always first a stage of ‘making it one’s own’. This is the ‘me’ phase and is most strong about 2 years into each 7-year cycle of development, after which the child begins to gradually accommodate others. The 2 year-old is the classic Little Self. The 9 year-old is the 2 year-old of the emotional development phase (7-14 years) and the adolescent is the 2 year-old of the thinking development phase (14-21 years).

Each of these ‘me’ nodes are crisis and transition points with the behaviour being classically Little Self each time.
Little Self is very reactive and cannot put others before itself. It says ‘you hit me… I hit you back’. Big Self on the other hand is fully conscious and aware of its actions. It can discern weigh, judge, defer, give and share. It has self-control, overview (the big picture) and its thinking, emotions and actions are all communicating to each other and are integrated. Big Self says ‘you hit me… but I choose to not hit you back’


Only around the age of 3.5 years we can see the appearance of reasoning. As the child grows and the ‘true child’ or ‘baby adult’ tries to arrive and ride the horse, there is always a struggle between these two ‘self ‘.
What we see often at this time of the year is the polarities struggle. One minute the friends will fight and another minute they will happily play together.

How can we help? What position do we need to take to support the emerging ‘Big Self’?
We need to put emphasis on positive reinforcement when we see cooperation, sharing, turn taking, including, stopping aggressive reaction and verbally expressing feelings. We need to encourage by saying “I know you can stop your hands from hitting. Next time you will do it”, “What else could you do?” We need to show compassion for the victim and much less attention to the offender. We can be close enough but hold back from reacting ourselves. It might be solved between them alone.

In kindy we are witness to beautiful acts of friendship and also acts of the ‘Little Self’ and we navigate and guide the children gently through them.
Tearza Stark

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Winter is a great opportunity to let the children play indoors

Posted by / July 16, 2014 / Categories: Blog / -

What to do with the children in wintery cold days?

How to make use of the winter season for enhancing your child’s development? Turn the TV off, stay in your slippers and let them play. There are few things about play that you need to know in order to be able to enhance and facilitate it at home.


The first thing to know about play is that play is learning.

Children learn to play and play to learn. Play nourishes every aspect of children’s development – physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and creative. The learning in play is integrated, powerful, and largely invisible to the untrained eye. Much of this learning happens without direct teaching. Children as great learners can play all day if they have been set with the right conditions and are allowed to do it.


The second thing to know is that play becomes more complex as the child develops

It evolves over the course of early childhood. The baby plays first with her/his own body, then with close people around him with simple games of peek-a-boo and simple objects to touch, taste and manipulate.

By two years of age, the child can move to “real” objects to play; a set of kitchen pans and lids, wooden spoons and few things to put in and out will gives enough materials for an extended period of self-play.

As the child is getting older, the play objects changes, now the child can “pretend” that the block is a phone, the chairs becomes a train and pine cones are food to cook. The older child can have a plan; collect the materials needed and execute the plan.

Today it is widely recognised that play develops the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life. Meaningful self-directed play can be seen as the building blocks that pave the way for later academic learning.

Block building, sand and water play lay the foundation for logical mathematical thinking, scientific reasoning, and cognitive problem solving. Rough-and-tumble play develops social and emotional self-regulation and may be particularly important in the development of social competence in boys. Pretend imaginative play paves the way to reasoning, language, thinking, creative and problem solving skills.

Children that can’t play will usually show some sort of developmental delay or learning difficulties.


The third thing to know is that quality play needs space and time

This changes according to the child’s developmental age. The under three year olds likes to play around the adults rather than in their room or play room (in kindy, in the first few months of the year, one Educator will sit on the round carpet and the children will play around her), so it needs to be allowed to happen anywhere the adult is spending their time.

As the child gets older, less adults presence is needed. The four and five year olds prefer to play without adults present and actually play better when the adult is not present in their space.

Play needs time to start and evolve. It takes some time before the child starts to play and become involved, especially if they haven’t experienced it much before. Play can’t be rushed, however, the adult can state the expectations and say “look, I prepared for you few things to play with while I am cooking”. Older children can understand “play time” concept, where the parents instruct them to “go on and play”.

It is helpful to set times for play as we have in kindy. A home rhythm with certain times set for certain activities will allow the child to feel secure and free to explore. Play length can start at 20 minutes at a time for the under threes and goes up to one hour and even more for the older child.

Sometimes play stops and starts again, so parents need to decide if it is possible to leave the creations and objects available for continuation later on or if it is time to pack way. On rainy days at kindy we leave the play uninterrupted for the whole morning until lunch, as children go back to their creations in interval times.

It is also helpful to know that play needs time to build up. It takes some time before the child can get really involved in play; there is a “warm up” time and “cooling down” time which need to be taken into account when setting play times at home. The hardest thing for a child to do is to stop playing just 20 minutes after starting.

So, play is not in between time, it is an activity in itself.


The fourth thing to know is that you as an adult have an important role in how the play will happen

Your children will do well in areas they are being praised for and know that you care about. At kindy we take many photos of the children’s play and we emphasise and protect children’s play time and space. The children learn to play in most creative and meaningful ways.

At home, you need to show the same enthusiasm and care for your child’s play as well. Taking photos of your child’s play and bringing it to show us at kindy will send an indirect message to your child that you care and appreciate the play. Of course the child’s confidence and self-esteem in believing that he/she can play will rise. It doesn’t mean that you need to sit and watch your child’s play the whole time; you just need few minutes to appreciate the play and share praise.

As Steiner Educators, we know that children play best when we are busy doing our tasks as well. We have daily tasks that we carry out during the day such as preparation of drawing papers, cleaning the painting trays, preparing clay balls, cleaning the room and other daily tasks. The children imitate our ‘work” with their “work”.

How much adult’s involvement is needed in the child’s play? It depends on the child’s age. The child under three, will love to be able to make you a cup of tea or dinner and have you around when needed. The older children will need you less, and unless there is a safety issue, it is better to just let them be.

So, there you are, all ready to set your child to play this winter. I added few ideas about play things and spaces you can create for your child.


Play things for creative free play

Simple everyday objects such as clothes pegs, old kitchen equipment, rolling pin, wooden bowls, small pots, silverware, saucers and pitchers and anything you can afford for the child to use will do.

Card Boxes
A shoe box can become a garage for the toy cars or a bed for the doll, or if you get your hands on a large storage card box, it is endless fun. A few pieces of cloth (old sheets will do) draped over the table or between chairs becomes a tent for adventures and hours of fun. A simple “tent” made of sheets in the bedroom or living room will open a whole word of opportunities and imagination.

Magic Box containing coloured pieces of cloth in various sizes.
These will be used for tablecloths, baby blankets, and rivers or to create a space for an action scene for a doll or puppet play. Natural materials like rocks, shells, pine cones, chestnuts or walnuts, if made available in small baskets or other containers will appear as part of doll scenery, pieces of food, small animals or whatever is needed in the moment’s play. Less is more in my view, so start small and expand later on.

So, take this winter period as opportunity to enhance your child’s development in all areas by letting them play and imagine. I would love to hear back for you about play experiences at home.

Yours, Tearza

This is a highly recommended article if you want to read more about the whole subject of play (pdf):